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New Digital Exhibit: Masks, Hells, and Books

Special Collections has a new digital exhibit: Masks, Hells, and Books: The Nuremberg Schembartlauf (1449-1539), curated by John Henry Adams. The Schembartlauf (literally, “the running of the masked men”) was a traditional Carnival parade held in Nuremberg, Germany. It started as a small honor guard for a troop of dancers but rapidly grew to include giant mechanical parade floats, political commentary, and dozens or hundreds of masked participants. Unfortunately, sometimes the exuberance would also spill over into riots. The most memorable of these riots was probably the one in 1539, when the Schembartlauf was banned, a ban that has yet to be officially revoked.

Masks, Hells, and Books takes the reader through the different aspects of the Schembartlauf: the origins of the parade, the costumes of the runners, the parade floats, the 1539 disaster that resulted in the Schembart’s ban, and the manuscripts that have preserved the memory of this strange festivity. We hope that it inspires you to think about some of our own traditions and how strange they might seem after several centuries of inactivity, though we would like to ask that you not follow the example set by the Schembart in 1507 and 1539. No riots, please!

The exhibit is made possible by the generosity of a private collector who has loaned three medieval manuscripts to Special Collections.

John Henry Adams

John Henry Adams is a librarian in the Special Collections and Rare Books department. He provides instruction and reference for the history of the book in general, but especially for medieval manuscripts, early European printing, the history of cartography, and English and German literature.